Landmines in Tajikistan
Tajikistan, a Central-Asian country bordered by Afghanistan to the south and China to the east, has been fighting poverty and food insecurity for years. As of 2018, 27.4% of the country’s 9.1 million population live in poverty. The landscape is particularly rural, with a majority of the population relying on the agricultural industry for both food and employment. However, the lack of fertilizers and proper machinery makes it difficult for people to care for agricultural land in Tajikistan. In order to help remove farmland overgrowth and landmines in Tajikistan, the U.S. Department of State and Defense intervened.

Landmines in Tajikistan

Currently, Tajikistan possesses a number of landmines on its border with Afghanistan. Russia, which partnered with Tajikistan in defense efforts against Afghanistan about 20 years ago, placed these landmines. Landmines continue to pose a threat to Tajikistan civilians who wish to utilize this land for farming and crops. In addition to the landmines, this land has become overgrown with vegetation and would cost a great sum to restore to its original state. The amount of physical labor would be extensive, and the presence of landmines makes the task prohibitively risky.

To assist with the efforts to clear this land, the U.S. Department of State and Defense used a $1.2 million Foreign Military Financing grant to supply the Tajikistan National Mine Center with a mini-Mine Wolf, a machine that remotely removes a number of explosive devices. In addition to the machine itself, the grant covered the deployment and the training of members of the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense to learn how to properly use the machine. The machine simultaneously cuts down overgrown vegetation and removes landmines from the surface, solving the two major problems with this land at the same time.

Since the machine’s deployment, six acres of land have recovered and irrigation channels have reopened to supply towns near this land with clean water. As poverty and food insecurity exists at higher rates in rural areas, access to clean water and this land for farming will provide food for thousands of families, as well as employment for jobless citizens living along the border.

Global Landmine Removal

While the United States has provided assistance in the removal of explosives and harmful landmines in Tajikistan, it has provided aid to other countries as well. In 2019, the United States Department of State and Defense funded conventional weapon destruction in 18 African countries, and during its active years, the department has funded more than $845 million toward weapon destruction in the Middle East. By freeing these lands of explosives and weapons that pose danger, the U.S. has helped support the economies of numerous countries by giving them access to land to farm and battle food insecurity. Food insecurity and poverty go hand in hand, and by enabling countries to cultivate the land they were able to in the past, these countries will be able to battle the hardships of poverty in years to come.

Evan Coleman
Photo: Flickr

The Militarization of U.S. Foreign Aid to Africa
“If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition” – Secretary of Defense Gen. Mattis. This kind of sentiment expressed by Gen. Mattis is shared by military and civilians alike. As the gap between foreign aid and military expenses increases, so does the concern from these officials toward the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa.

The 2019 U.S. Proposed Budget Changes

The proposed 2019 budget from the Trump Administration underscores this worry. In the anticipated budget, the Dept. of Defense would receive an estimated $686 billion, which would be an increase of $80 billion (13 percent) from 2017. In comparison, the Dept. of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development would only see a budget of $25.8 billion; which means a $9 billion decrease (26 percent) from 2017 levels.

Furthermore, 2016 serves as a case study for how these resources are being applied in Africa. Of the $26 billion given to Africa through USAID, the Dept. of Defense was actually the leading implementing agency (beating out even USAID). While USAID carried out $9.5 billion worth of foreign aid operations, the Dept. of Defense oversaw $10 billion worth. Alongside low funding due to Congressional budget approval, civilian agencies don’t have the resources to operate, disperse and oversee foreign aid.

On the ground, the picture is becoming more and more clear. It was the Dept. of Defense, not the Dept. of State, that was the first to conduct high-level meetings and summits in African countries, such as Libya, Malawi, Chad and Djibouti, signifying it as the lead diplomatic agency in Africa.

Concerns with an Increasing U.S. Military Presence in Africa

When looking at the statistics, America’s leading military officials are among some of the most vocal advocates against the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa. They worry that by cutting aid and favoring the military in poverty-stricken parts of the world, the U.S. is creating an environment for even more conflict. More specifically, they claim that by choosing military bases over schools, the U.S. is allowing more openings for militant groups, hurting U.S. interests in the long-run by pushing development aside.

For instance, Gen. Carter Ham, the former commander of Africa Command, sees the favoring of the military over diplomacy as a loss of hope for the people of Africa. Per his example, a young Nigerian man faced with no work, education or healthcare would much sooner turn to a militant group that offers money, prestige and a purpose.

His view is echoed by a 2017 testimony submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee. This testimony was written by a long list of retired U.S. military officials, including Gen. Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal and Adm. Michael Mullen. Here, they stated, “…how much more cost-effective it is to prevent a conflict than to end one.” Their views reinforce the idea that Africa is much better served by civilian agencies than by military ones.

The Importance of Civilian Agencies in Africa

Not only do U.S. military officials recognize the harm of militarizing aid but also the importance of returning this role back to civilian agencies. Before leaving office, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates highlighted the importance of the Dept. of State in a 2010 speech. In this speech, he emphasized the necessity of keeping the Dept. of State as the main actor for conducting foreign policy because foreign aid and security reinforce one another. In addition, he called for a new foreign policy, requiring all sectors of U.S. foreign policy to form new partnerships and implement U.S. interests for long-term successes.

Now, the militarization of U.S. foreign aid to Africa does not mean that the military is an adversary to foreign aid. All of the examples used in this article critiquing this militarization process have all been expressed by current or retired military officials who are simply recognizing the need for humanitarian aid and the limits of military power.

Preventing conflict certainly makes more sense than instigating it, but it is up to U.S. citizens to decide whether a voter or a 3-star general holds Congress accountable for a better foreign policy towards Africa. Or in the words of Alexander Laskaris, a senior Dept. of State official with African Command: “How do we operate in an environment when we are willing to send peacekeepers, but we’re not willing to take the steps necessary to make peace?”

Tanner Helem
Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Montenegro

Montenegro is one of the world’s newer nations, having become independent from Serbia in 2006. As such, development in the country is a work in progress, with several vulnerable groups still existing. There are a few different ways that people around the globe are figuring out how to help people in Montenegro. There are multiple foundations whose mission is to combat poverty within Montenegro as well as instances where individuals within the United States are helping out.

Help – Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe” is a foundation that has been committed to providing people in need globally with prompt, sustainable, long-term aid and support since 1981. Their mission is in line with its principle of assisting people with working towards self-reliance. It works together with people that are in need regardless of their age, gender, political views or religious beliefs by providing aid in the aftermath of catastrophes.

Help has been working in Montenegro specifically since 1999, and the main focus of their work there is supporting the Roma people who had fled to Montenegro during the Kosovo war. Help focuses on clarifying residence issues such as access to health care, education and income opportunities by pursuing uniform approaches to solutions to reduce economic hardships while taking their culture and customs into consideration. Help is particularly focusing on Roma women, who tend to be the most disadvantaged in social and economic terms.

U.S. emergency planners and their counterparts in Montenegro came together in Podgorica to help the country better prepare the young democracy to effectively respond to potential catastrophic disasters in a four-day working session that is part of the Department of Defense Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness Program. This program is a global initiative to help countries be better able to address security concerns and be prepared to manage all varieties of hazards.

BalkanInsight has an interesting take on when people want to learn how to help people in Montenegro. The article talks about how poverty is not simple, and those who believe that it is do not necessarily understand it. Not all children in the country suffer from hunger; on the contrary, almost one in four children under five are overweight, with just 7 percent of Roma children being underweight compared to 1 percent of the general population.

Sometimes where hunger does occur in Montenegro it is because of family problems, such as mental health, addiction or domestic violence. Situations such as these require more complex interventions, not necessarily the food parcels that are shown time and again on social or broadcast media. It is wise in a situation like this to realize that it is always good to help when one needs help, but to be careful as to how you are helping and make sure that you are truly helping rather than hurting.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in BulgariaUSAID classifies Bulgaria as a nation of upper-middle income, with a GNI of over $53 billion and a GNI per capita of over $7,000. Despite these statistics, learning how to help people in Bulgaria from a U.S. standpoint might begin with funding.

U.S. disbursements to the nation for fiscal year 2015 totaled over $18 million. Unlike many other nations needing assistance in health or emergency services, the top two activities were:

  • International Materials Protection and Cooperation (Department of Energy)
  • Foreign Military Financing Program, Payment Waived (Department of Defense)

Unsurprisingly, those departments are also listed as the top partners for Bulgaria, with the Department of Defense leading over Energy. Furthermore, the top sector involved conflict, peace and security, and over half of the financial assistance for Bulgaria fell under the “military” (rather than the “economic”) category.

However, these focuses may not be the best ways of how to help people in Bulgaria, as the World Bank estimated the percentage of people living under the country’s poverty line in 2014 at around 22 percent.

Furthermore, while HealthGrove statistics estimated the life expectancy in the country at about 74 years, it maintained one of the highest mortality rates in comparison to other nations in Europe. It ranked above only Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Russia. Healthgrove breaks down the risk of mortality between communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases, injuries and non-communicable diseases.

Of these, non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular problems and cancer) ranked much higher than the other two in terms of mortality rates. Consequently, making arguments for funds to treat diseases that can be transferred—like HIV, malaria and tuberculosis—might seem pointless. However, that does not mean that funding cannot go toward health in general when determining how to help people in Bulgaria.

A report from the United Kingdom providing tips on those traveling to Bulgaria explained that, relative to the United Kingdom, “facilities in most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned.” It did, however, make note of hospitals and clinics that are private as “generally well equipped and not expensive in comparison with the U.K.”

Although this measure is dependent on comparing and contrasting with the United Kingdom, it does not change the fact that funding from the United States could be reallocated toward health initiatives, instead of focusing so heavily on the Departments of Defense/Energy.

While the Global Health Innovation Act seems to highlight the importance of addressing communicable diseases in other countries, it may still be influential on the healthcare of Bulgarian citizens. Additionally, the International Affairs Budget is another important piece of legislation addressing U.S. funding to other nations.

Implementing effective practices when figuring out how to help people in Bulgaria can often be as simple as supporting bills and acts that relate to the U.S. budget.

Maleeha Syed

Photo: Flickr

Life-saving technologies
To say that war has evolved is an understatement. The mobilization of large-scale armies in two-sided conflicts is no longer an appropriate definition of modern warfare. For example, consider the various ongoing wars in the Middle East; in many regions, ISIS is fighting against a combination of tribal groups, government forces and civilian militias.

The changing landscape of war, along with changes in war technology, leaves one thing clear: war is no longer country versus country, but rather a scramble for power in volatile regions. However, it is not just the technologies designed to kill that have evolved; life-saving technologies have also made incredible leaps in development.

Evolution of Warfare

As the parameters of war continue to change, so must foreign aid intended to help people caught in armed conflict. Most U.S. foreign aid falls under the “150 account,” a function of the federal budget that contains funding for all international activities. Though function 150 comprises just one percent of the federal budget, it’s responsible for providing all military assistance to allies and aiding in international peacekeeping efforts.

On-going conflicts like those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iran place a heavy strain on U.S. assistance, as the government struggles to provide cost-effective and efficient methods of assistance.

In 2014, president Obama asked Congress to fund a program in which American military personnel would teach Syrian and Jordanian rebels navigation, marksmanship and other skills, in the hopes that they would return to Syria and fight. They recruited about 15,000 men to train in Jordanian territory. One year later, U.S. defense officials admitted that just four or five recruits from the program actually returned to fight.

Meanwhile, the crisis in Syria continues to worsen. Recent estimates place the death toll in Syria at over 200,000 which includes adult civilians and children. About 28,000 deaths can be attributed to shootings and mass killings; often random events that happen with no prior warning.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. panel investigating human rights abuses in Syria, explains how “everyday decisions- whether to visit a neighbor, to go out and buy bread- have become, potentially, decisions about life and death.”

Maybe it’s time to rethink how the government can best support civilians and the Syrian National Coalition. Train and equip programs like that of 2014 seem to be a process of trial and error, as it takes time to access their efficacy and long-term sustainability.

Life-saving Technologies

Still, there are small steps the Department of Defense can take to save Syrian lives without sending in weapons or personnel. Two life-saving technologies, the combat tourniquet and quick-clot, could drastically reduce the number of deaths associated with shootings and mass killings as well as organized fighting between the National Coalition and Assad’s forces.

The combat application tourniquet (CAT) is a 21st take on the conventional tourniquet and one of the most important life-saving technologies. Generally speaking, tourniquet use in combat declined after World War II, when widespread misuse led to excessive blood loss and amputation. In most cases, tourniquets were either too tight or too loose, rendering them useless and inefficient.

In the following decades, field medics and soldiers barely used tourniquets in the Vietnam and Korean wars. Unlike its traditional predecessor, the CAT is incredibly easy to use and much more effective. A recent study by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) found a 78% success rate when compared to alternative methods for stopping a bleeding.

The CAT’s Out of the Bag

Designed to be used with one hand, the CAT features an adhesive band and friction-adapting buckle to fit anything from an arm to thigh. It also has a free-moving internal band that provides the circumferential pressure necessary for stopping blood flow.

The major difference between the CAT and the traditional tourniquet is that a traditional tourniquet needs to be tied. The CAT’s design makes it possible for a wounded individual to use the device on him or herself, without having to wait for a medic (although it’s still possible for one person to use the CAT on another).

The same study by the IDF claims that the CAT is easy to use and is relatively painless compared to other methods. Its one-handed and foolproof design makes it an ideal technology for war-torn regions where the majority of casualties are related to bullet wounds and blood loss. The U.S. military-issued CAT is priced at about $30.

Clots Begone

Combat Gauze, colloquially termed “QuikClot” is another one of the life-saving technologies at a lower cost (about $8-$40 per packet, depending on the retailer). QuikClot is a hemostatic agent, which means it stops blood loss by helping the blood rapidly clot. Kaolin, the primary clotting agent, works on contact with blood by initiating factor XII, which then transforms into Factor XIIa. XIIa is the molecular cascade responsible for clotting.

The physical gauze conforms to the wound and immediately triggers this process. The 2013 Journal of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists features a study that found QuikClot effectively stopped hemorrhaging — without complications — 79% of the times it was used by the Israeli Defense forces in Gaza.

The journal also features data to show that QuikClot allowed more effective fluid resuscitation (blood transfusions) and better helped the clot withstand movement compared to other methods.

Packaged in small pouches, QuikClot can be distributed in mass quantities and used without instructions besides those printed on the back of the pouch.

Foreign aid plays a critical role in the United States’ efforts to help people in war-torn regions. As such, it is imperative for aid packages to be cost-effective and fast-acting.

The Combat Application Tourniquet and QuikClot are two life-saving technologies suited to meet the medical needs of many civilians and soldiers affected by armed conflict, especially those in Syria, where thousands of men, women and children continue to die because of blood loss.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Officer Survival

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” – President Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 2013

This past October, only 67% of Americans believed that global warming is affecting the world, according to a pole by Pew Research Center. On a list of 20 world issues that the Congress and president needed to focus on, global warming ranked number 19 according to Americans.

In response to this, President Obama is currently working on a website that will enable Americans to view how the ever-changing climate is affecting their own regions and hometowns. John D. Podesta, Obama’s counselor, believes that “localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs actions. If you’re thinking…how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”

Podesta and John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser, formed the idea of, which strives to illustrate data of calculated wildfires, dangerously rising sea levels and dry spells.

Their website is based on urgency and helping Americans to understand the necessity of focusing on the environment; it is also based on the necessity to prepare Americans for the affect that the damaged climate will have in the future. The Obama administration is currently helping governments to strengthen their methods of transportation, such as bridges, shorelines and roads, so that the local community would be protected from dangerous changes in weather that are more common because of the climate change.

Obama stated that one of the most important steps to alleviating climate change is to reinforce international relations. In doing so the US will work with other countries to find a global solution to this global challenge and spread action through major countries that contribute to pollution emissions.

In the beginning stages, Podesta and Holdren’s website will merely feature information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the United States Geological Survey and the Defense Department. They are expecting the first revealed page to primarily focus on sea levels and eroding and flooding coastal lines.

Most people are aware of Google Maps and Google Earth, Google’s projects in which you can locate most addresses on the globe, and they are considering mixing their ability to map with the government’s information on climate change and risk measurements.

With this website the US population will have a greater chance to understand the imminent danger that climate change is bringing, and they will also have a visual representation of the potential harm it could bring their states and hometowns.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: White House, The New York Times, Climate Action Plan
Photo: Politico

The Military & Global Health

Kate Almquist Knopf, blogging for the Center for Global Development, notes several problems that could result from the Department of Defense (DoD) getting involved in global health. Her main argument states that the DoD’s priority should be to protect U.S. national security. She goes on to say, if providing humanitarian aid and promoting development is in the United States’ national interest, then it should be done by those best-suited to do the job — civilian development experts. She argues that the DoD should instead focus on the value its participation could add to development practice through providing security so that civilian practitioners can do their jobs.

While there is no single DoD “global health budget” line item, a 2012 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the DoD budget for such activities was more than half a billion dollars in fiscal year (FY) 2012 – at least $579.7 million. In comparison, this estimated funding “floor” ranks higher than the global health budgets for either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health in FY 2012. For FY 2014, the DoD requests $526.6 billion to protect and advance security interests at home and abroad.

Although this substantial amount of money is being funneled through the DoD towards global health efforts, Knopf argues that the DoD is not the ideal leader for global health initiatives. The DoD does its health projects like its military actions – only for the short-term. Additionally, the DoD health-related activities are often not evaluated for effectiveness, defying the accepted principles of development work. These principles understand that a long-term approach with regular evaluation is more sustainable and effective. Yet the agencies that follow these principles, like the USAID and the Department of State, get less funding for global health than does the DoD. In fact, only one percent of the federal budget goes to these two agencies.

When a military group is present, mixed messages are not uncommon. Knopf stresses that the delivery of health services to civilian populations is a civilian role, not a military one. The appropriate time for the military to step in is when there is an extreme emergency like a natural disaster.

Knopf also points out that more needs to be done to get the different agencies to collaborate. The DoD should not act in isolation from USAID and the State Department. Given the vast budget and influence of the DoD, improved coordination with U.S. government civilian partners in global health may promote more effective use of resources and ensure U.S. government efforts in national security and in global health are not contradicting one another. Given the nature of the organization, the DoD’s national security objectives will at times take precedent over the objectives of the global health and development community, hindering progress toward improving health.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Center for Global Development,U.S. Department of Defense,Kaiser Family Foundation
Photo: Weasel Zippers


Introduced in the last few months of the 112th Congress, S. 3436, or better known by its short title “Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act of 2012” was written by Senator Robert Casey Jr from Pennsylvania and co-sponsored by seven others senators including California’s Feinstein, New York’s Gillibrand, and Texas’ Hutchinson to name a few.

The well written and detailed bill was in response to the slow removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. As the process will continue until 2014, the bill requires the Department of Defense to take multiple precautions and implement specific strategies to ensure the safety and vitality of women and girls in Afghanistan. With less American troops patrolling local areas, it will be important to train the Afghan National Army and Police, as well as educate male civilians on the proper treatment of females.

Although the bill is currently dead, one can only hope it will be reintroduced to the newest Congress. In accordance to the 2012 Strategic Partnership Agreement, President Karzi agreed to “ensure and advance the essential role of women in society so that they may fully enjoy their economic, social, political, civil, and cultural rights.” Making this statement a reality has proven difficult.

One of the main indicators of a successful transition of authority to Afghanistan, according to this bill, would have been an increase in the number of women in the Afghan National Army and Police force. While the Afghan government had set a goal of three percent female composition in its police force and 10 percent in the army by 2014, it has not even come close to reaching either of those percentages. The bill also calls for creating separate female facilities to make the work environment more tolerable and to illustrate the seriousness by which the Afghan government has in implementing its ANP and ANA goals.

Other indicators of a successful transition are the mobility of Afghan women, the attendance rate in schools for girls, participation in local governments, ease of access to social services, and the rate of violence against women in communities. To monitor the data on this, the bill also called for a Civilian Impact Advisor on the Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal Board to be assigned by the D.O.D.

Thankfully, the bill recognized the fact that it is not just signing agreements and monitoring tangible evidence that is going to help bring stability to Afghanistan. As the security of women is a huge aspect of preventing further conflict and maintaining peace, a call to a cultural awakening for both genders will have to result. It is therefore important for Afghanis to realize the benefits of the inclusion of females in everyday society, be it in the classroom or in the armed forces.

Despite its death in Congress, there is hope that a similar bill will rise in the 13th Congress with more sponsors and more success.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: The Library of Congress
Photo: blogspot